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Judicial Races Become Politicized as Abortion Rights Grow as an Election Issue

Robin Marty

The right to choose is becoming an issue all the way down to the judiciary.

Judicial races used to be mostly non-partisan. But as the judiciary has become more pivotal in the implementation of legislation, deciding what is or isn’t constitutional, and more judges appear to be taking their own political beliefs and leanings into account in their decisions, “non-partisan” races are almost non-existent.

One lawyer in Michigan lays out the importance of knowing the political background of judicial candidates, and the effect that their positions on reproductive rights could have on teens in the state seeking to terminate their pregnancies.


The power of a single judge to make reproductive choice decisions for young women is part of a 1991 law which resulted from an initiative petition drive by Right to Life and other anti-choice forces.The law requires any young woman under the age of 18 to have the permission of a parent or a legal guardian to obtain an abortion, in any circumstances. If the young woman is unable to obtain that permission, or is afraid or unwilling to seek it, she can petition a court for a waiver of the parental consent requirement.

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Any one of the five Washtenaw Circuit Court and two Probate Court judges may be assigned to hear these cases. During the last four years, there have been more than 125 of them.

It is impossible to know which judge or judges will be assigned to hear these cases in the future, but it certainly is possible that the newly-elected judge will decide some portion of them.

The statute says a waiver of parental consent should be granted if the court finds either of the following: 1) The minor is “sufficiently mature and well-enough informed” to make the decision independently of her parents or legal guardian, or 2) The waiver would be “in the best interests of the minor.” This language is broad and loose enough for the most pro-choice or anti-choice judge to find justification within in it for any decision.

The Right to Life position is to legally deny to every woman, no matter her age or maturity, the right to make a decision about whether to end a pregnancy, except when her life is endangered. The Human Life Amendment it supports would, essentially, make abortion a murder of a “person.” It is difficult to see how any judge who subscribes to the Right to Life position would ever find that a teenage girl should be given the option of deciding, on her own, whether to have an abortion, or would find that “murdering” her “unborn child” would be in her best interest.

Conversely, a pro-choice judge can’t require a minor to have an abortion. The judge only rules on whether the young woman may make the decision.

It would be wonderful if all judges followed the intent of the law and allowed teens to make the decision to carry a pregnancy to term for themselves, rather than force it on them by taking away their other options. It would also be ideal if party politics didn’t matter because judges would follow law despite their leanings. But once judges seek out or receive endorsements from conservative or progressive groups or political organizations, that impartiality has already been thrown out the window.

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